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Life as a Professional Fisherman
by Mark Strand
of the Rapala Advisory Team
Mark Martin, Rapala Angler of the Year, on what
life is really like as a professional, and promotional, fisherman by Mark
Strand for the Rapala Professional Advisory Team.
The pull of the water is so powerful in some people's
lives that they just can't get it out of their system, to the point that
they're driven even to want to make a living in some way in the fishing
business. It was that way for Mark Martin, now on top of his game as a
fulltime professional fisherman, recently named 2001 Rapala Angler of the
Year. Reality being what it is, for every Martin there are scores who love
to fish, who would love to find some way to be like Mark. When you quiz
the average angler who dreams the dream, you often find a rose-tinted perception
of what everyday life would be like if only…they could get paid to just
go fishing. Here is what the lifestyle is really like, from a man who lives
it, rain and shine, heart and soul, hot and cold, all alone going down
the road. One time, on summer vacation, Mark Martin's little four-year-old
daughter was getting slime all over the grass at a Canadian resort, as
she struggled to pull a northern pike, longer than she was tall, over to
show her mom. Mark and wife Paula were laughing the laugh of people on
holiday, when the owner of the resort came out of the lodge and pulled
Mark aside. "He was really talking stern and serious," Mark remembers.
"I thought he was going to ask us to leave or something." You see, the
owner had been watching Mark and his family go out every morning and come
back with piles of fish and stories of others released, while the rest
of the guests struggled to catch much of anything. The resort operator
needed to do something to raise the morale of the camp, so he made Mark
an offer that would change his life. "He said that if I would take the
other people out fishing," Martin remembers, "that our stay at the resort
would be free. He handed us back our deposit. He gave me the key to the
gas pump, the keys to his personal vehicle, and told us we would eat all
our meals for free at his house. He even kicked in 10 bucks a day spending
money." Martin spent the next week or so leading people to fine catches,
and pinching himself to see if it was all a dream. When the Martins started
packing to go back home to Michigan (where Mark had a real job building
office furniture), the resort owner made one more offer. "He tried to hire
me to stay up there all summer," said Mark. "Paula (his wife) looked at
me and said we had to get home." As they drove, the vision of a new life
was overwhelming this lifelong fisherman.
I had been a welder, tool-and-die maker, punch-press
operator, a little of everything. It turned out that Paula was thinking
the same thing I was. She told me I could do this back at home. She said
I was gone fishing all the time anyway, so I might as well make some money
doing it." There were formal steps to take before this venture could get
underway. Martin studied for and received a captain's license. Then he
secured a special insurance policy that would cover his activities whether
he was guiding in the United States or Canada. Because of his reputation
(as a catcher of trophy fish), he only had to advertise one year. The demand
for his services has outstripped his available time ever since. Meanwhile,
Martin was bitten by the tournament bug, spreading his wings to waters
far and wide. In this arena is where he found out that his fishing talents
do indeed measure up. His competitive track record, in head-to-head fishing
against the other best anglers from their respective local areas, is one
of the best of all-time. But time has also taught Mark Martin that the
ability to catch fish is but one aspect of making a living in the fishing
business. In fact, over the long haul, it becomes less and less important.
Unless you restrict your role to guiding––that is, if you strive to become
a professional and promotional angler––you must become a business person
who happens to work in the fishing industry. "People think that all I do
is fish," says Martin. "I do a lot of fishing, but that's not all I do.
If I only fished, I couldn't pay the bills. You can make a decent living
guiding, and if you happen to do well in a tournament you can cash a good
check, but to secure your life and income you have to do more." For one
thing, Martin acts as a spokesperson, an ambassador, for Rapala and its
growing line of premium fishing products. In his role as a personality,
Martin handles a wide variety of appearances in places big and small, from
major sports show seminars to a small-town tackle shop meet-and-greet.
Unlike stars in the entertainment industry, he doesn't have a lot of ‘people'
to take care of the details. It's Mark and Paula making the calls, figuring
out how to get there, gathering what he needs, and going out to do it.
He also makes guest appearances on TV and radio shows, makes time for interviews
with outdoor writers, and even pens his own magazine articles and books.
Every quarter, he files an activity report to Rapala indicating where he
has been and what he's done. He also keeps a file of new product ideas––even
wrinkles that will make a good product a little better––and he offers those
up, too. Anything to add to his value. Recently, he plunged deep into the
world of computers and multi-media presentations, creating a new set of
seminar materials that wow the increasingly sophisticated and demanding
public. "Using Power Point," he says, "I put together film clips, still
photos, and titles that help show what I'm talking about. I used to just
grab a couple rods, a tackle box, and go up there on stage and talk. I
can't do that any more. People expect more than that." In essence, there
is no slow time. Local guide trips are juggled between tournament practice
and competition days, which are followed by the seminar and appearance
season. It becomes an endurance contest, with long hours behind the wheel
of a truck that's pulling a boatload of equipment in constant need of maintenance.
"Life on the road isn't as much fun as you might think," Martin admits.
"You have one little window in your motel room, and you're lucky if you
have a refrigerator to keep your pop cold. And the meals aren't home-cooked.
Going out to eat isn't that great when you do it every day. And you don't
have your family around to have fun and conversation. You end up sitting
there by yourself a lot of times." There is a strain on family relationships.
Martin stresses how lucky he is to have a wife who encourages him to keep
chasing what was once a dream. "You better know that the other people in
your life are behind you," he says. "You end up asking them to maintain
the household and pick up a lot of slack for you." During the four-month
peak of the tournament season in 2001, Mark was home for 12 days. "It's
not nine-to-five anymore," Martin says. "Now, it's more like five in the
morning until 11 at night. There are so many phone calls you have to make,
and places you have to be." And you fish every chance you get, regardless
of the conditions. "It's not all bluebird sunny days," says Martin. "A
lot of times it's just above freezing with 20-mile-an-hour winds, or 102
degrees and no wind. But you have to go. You have to practice, even if
it's bad weather, because it might be bad weather on the tournament days,
too, and you have to know how to catch fish no matter what." Despite the
demands and the rigors, Martin considers himself a lucky fisherman. "I'm
happy every day at the end of the day," he says, "because I have the peace
of mind that comes from doing what I really want to do. I've always been
used to hard work. Professional fishing takes up an awful lot of time,
but I see the rewards of it, too." Note: These articles are provided by
the Rapala Professional Advisory Team. Join the Rapala Fishing Club, and
help shape future lures! You get a prototype lure and become a Field Evaluator!
You also get 6 issues of "Profile," the Club publication full of fishing
tips, and two different decals. Cost is $12 in the U.S., $17 in Canada,
and $25 in all other countries. Send membership dues to: Rapala Club, Dept.
SC, POB 581126, Minneapolis, MN 55458
||For years, people who knew of his local fishing
prowess had begged Mark to take them fishing. Reluctant to give up his
spots and leery of their intentions, he had mostly avoided the requests.
But now, with a taste of getting paid to do what he wanted to do anyway,
Mark couldn't help but draw up plans for a guiding service that would replace
his days of punching a time card. "Even though I fished all the time,"
Mark said, "I had 40-hour-a-week jobs, too.
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